Why DeMolay?

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
RWB Michael H Shirley

Jacob Shirley with Kelsey Birdsell, Illinois DeMolay State
Sweetheart (left) and Nicholas Capes,
Illinois DeMolay State Master Councilor (right)
I’m originally from Evanston, Illinois, the city immediately north of Chicago, but I’ve lived in central Illinois for the last twenty-five years. There are frustrations common to both places, but I’ve learned that one difficulty that rural areas have that urban areas don’t is the lack of a good-sized population to draw from when you want to do things in groups. So the problems inherent in trying to rebuild a DeMolay chapter in a small town aren’t surprising. Tuscola, Illinois, is the county seat of Douglas County, and has a population of only 4600, which makes it the major metropolitan area around here. There are a couple of other towns of some size nearby, but the whole county has only 19,000 people in it, so finding boys who would be interested in DeMolay is not the easiest thing. We have an excellent Chapter Dad, and my wife, Debra, who’s on the board of advisors, is a font of ideas, but, in terms of numbers, we haven’t had much success so far. 

So why do it? I can’t speak for the other advisors, but I don’t think I’d be involved with DeMolay had I not seen it as a positive thing for my son, Jacob. Jacob is thirteen, and joined DeMolay three days after he turned twelve. He has Asperger’s, an IQ somewhere north of mine, a deep and abiding love of video games and animals, and the most inherently logical mind I’ve ever run across. DeMolay’s focus on leadership development, good citizenship, and basic decency seemed a good fit for him, especially since the only organized outlets for kids his age around here are sports, which he can’t stand, and Scouts, which he finds too outdoorsy. So we’ve been taking him to state events, where he’s been meeting other DeMolays from all over and generally having a good time. Last year, I took him to Fall Fest, the annual DeMolay Ritual Competition and Dodge Ball Tournament, and he enjoyed himself thoroughly, Dodge Ball being his one exception to the “no sports” rule. So this year, at my urging, he entered the ritual competition in Fifth Preceptor, Junior Division. And won it. We knew he had before the announcement, but it was a total surprise to him, and the joy and shock on his face when he received his medal and certificate from Nick Capes, Illinois DeMolay State Master Councilor, was infectious. He didn’t stop grinning for days, and neither did Deb and I. He’s already started preparing for next year’s competition, when he hopes to try at least the Magnificent 3 (three of the seven Preceptors’ recitations), or maybe even the Mag 7. I have no doubt he’ll succeed. DeMolay has taught him that some success can be earned by hard work and persistence, and now he wants more of it.

So when I wonder why I do it, I look at that picture of him with his medal and certificate, and remember: it’s about giving as many boys as possible that opportunity for excellence, for brotherhood, for growth. I certainly get something out of it (just look at that picture again), but it’s not about me. The best things never are.


R. W. B. Michael H. Shirley is Assistant Area Deputy Grand Master for the Eastern Area for the Grand Lodge of Illinois A.F. & A.M, as well as a Certified Lodge Instructor and Leadership Development Chairman for the Grand Lodge of Illinois. A Past Master and Life Member of Tuscola Lodge No. 332, a plural member of Island City Lodge No. 330, F & AM, in Minocqua Wisconsin and he is also a member of the Illinois Lodge of Research, the Scottish Rite, the York Rite, Eastern Star, and the Tall Cedars of Lebanon. The author of several articles on British history, he teaches at Eastern Illinois University.


  1. *This* is exactly why I got my son into DeMolay (other than the long-standing family tradition). He was lucky enough to find great mentors, and has discovered recently, *he* is now becoming a mentor.... 8) Nick is also a great young man. Good luck to all of you! MomWendy in Xenia OH

  2. In addition to being a Senior DeMolay and DeMolay Advisor, I have had the absolute joy of seeing two of "my" DeMolays become Chapter "Dad" and Assistant Chapter "Dad" of the rebuilding Chapter in Waco, Texas. They are both also members of my Lodge (one is the current Junior Warden) and two of the brightest young Masons I've had the pleasure to know.

    This is what DeMolay does: it builds leaders. Coming from a Masonic family, I would most likely be a Mason if it weren't for DeMolay, but I do not believe I would have the love and respect for the Craft and its teachings that I do today. And I would have had a much tougher time when I reached the East, of that I have no doubt.

    Tony Uzzell, Worshipful Master - J.H. Gurley Lodge No. 337, Waco, Texas

  3. DeMolay has been a driving force in my life. I am not a Senior DeMolay. As a "Dad" I have witnessed the effects of under male nourished young men. DeMolay bridges the gap for Fatherless boys.

  4. I think DeMolay is great. I am a former Chapter Advisor, though I never had a chance to join myself. (The one time I came close was when I was Freshman in college, a member of a college fraternity (founded by a Mason) and met some DeMolays when I was home on break. When they asked me to join, I asked them to tell me about DeMolay. They said it was a high school fraternity. You can imagine how well that sounded to a college fraternity man. If I had know that 5 years later I would be a DeMolay Chapter Advisory I might have done it.)

    I have nephews who have been MCs in DeMolay, but my boys have not become DeMolays. Where I have lived there have not been any chapters within a reasonable distance. And from my involvement as Chapter Dad I knew that my boys, coming from an hour or more, would never really feel part of the group when most went to the same schools.

    My wife's sister and brother-in-law don't mind travelling an hour or more each way. My wife and I just can't see it.

    There was an effort where I live to start a District Chapter. We tried to get a seed group together for 6 months among 6 lodges in 6 towns. We got 3 Brothers who were willing to advise but no sons, nephews, grandsons were offered for membership.

    Kind of sad.
    But I am happy to see this post and hope that Brothers who have a DeMolay Chapter close to them will get involved and get their sons, nephews, grandsons involved.

  5. This is a great piece brother. You know, I am a huge supporter of these types of programs. It's great to see the program started in small areas and having kids getting involved. It provides a great perspective for the youth of being a part of something larger.

  6. I am a former Chapter Dad for our local Olympia, Washington chapter and I would agree that the joy in seeing a boy transform from a sheepish, shy child at age 12 into a confident, respectful, leader at age 21 makes all the hours of driving, overnights, meetings, and work worth it. Both in my own son as well as the boys I have worked with throughout the years I have seen the precepts of DeMolay and the brotherhood of the chapter be a game changer over and over in the lives of so many young men. We celebrate the spirit of boyhood while bringing out all of the wonderful things in our young men that so many in society claim doesn't exist in today's youth anymore. I am proud to be a DeMolay Mom and advisor and hope to see our chapters keep growing and reaching more youth.

    Mom Betsy Borgacz
    Olympia, WA


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